Iran launches 'research rocket'

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The Independent Online

Iran launched a rocket today designed to send its first homemade research satellite into orbit in the next year, state television said, a move likely to add to Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear plans.

The ability to put satellites into orbit could indicate an advance in the Islamic Republic's missile technology, though official media gave few details.

State television reported the rocket had blasted off but did not show the launch. It had earlier broadcast footage of a rocket on a launch pad in desert terrain.

It said the satellite, called Omid (Hope), would be launched in the next Iranian year, which ends in March 2009.

"We need to have an active and influential presence in space," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised ceremony before the launch.

"Iran took its first step (to establish a presence in space) very strongly, precisely and wisely," he said. "Building and launching a satellite is a very important achievement."

Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials were shown in an auditorium but state television did not say where it was.

Iran often announces advances in its missile technology. In November it said it had built a new missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), adding to the scope of its conventional arsenal.

Western experts say Iran rarely gives enough details to determine how significant its technology advances are. They say much Iranian technology is based on modifications to equipment supplied by others, including China and North Korea.

Western capitals fear Iran is trying to master technology so it can build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its plans are peaceful and that it wants to generate electricity from nuclear power plants.

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